9 September 2015
Syrian children walk amid the dust during a sandstorm on 7 September 2015 at a refugee camp on the outskirts of the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek. (photo: AFP/Getty Images)
A massive sandstorm is taking a devastating and deadly toll on parts of the Middle East this week:
Thick yellow dust blew into Middle Eastern capitals from the east on Tuesday, putting life — and war — briefly on pause.
The massive sandstorm started in Iraq and also blanketed parts of Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Cyprus, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories on Tuesday.
Health authorities in several countries warned people not to leave their homes, and schools closed in Jordan and Lebanon. Many flights across the region were grounded due to poor visibility. The Syrian regime even called off airstrikes against rebels in central Syria on Monday due to the weather.
While some Syrians had a brief respite from the bombing, the storm presented dangers of its own. Thousands of Syrians were hospitalized with breathing problems and oxygen supplies were running low in some areas, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. In the Syrian capital Damascus, health officials said they had treated more than 1,200 people, including 100 children, with breathing difficulties.
Several casualties were reported in connection with the storm in Lebanon. The country’s health ministry said two women were killed and some 750 hospitalized. Syrian refugees sheltering in informal camps in Lebanon were particularly hard hit by the storm, Agence France Press reported.
Syria’s health minister urged citizens to “avoid prolonged exposure to the outdoors” and said hundreds of people had been treated for cases of asthma and other respiratory problems.
Thick haze was hanging over Jerusalem and much of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, with officials also warning the vulnerable to stay indoors.
The view from the Mount of Olives — which normally offers a sweeping panorama of Jerusalem’s Old City and the Al Aqsa mosque compound with its golden Dome of the Rock — was completely obscured by the dust.
The thick cloud also enveloped parts of the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where residents were told to limit their time outdoors.
...The interior ministry said that dozens of Syrian refugees who had been rescued from a fishing boat off the coast of Cyprus on Sunday had been moved from a makeshift camp to a better-equipped facility because of the extreme weather.
9 September 2015
Following Pope Francis’s call for European churches to house refugees, Vatican officials in the video above say about half a million people might be helped. (video: Rome Reports)
UN: 850,000 refugees to cross sea to Europe this year (Reuters) At least 850,000 people are expected to cross the Mediterranean seeking refuge in Europe this year and next, the United Nations said on Tuesday, giving estimates that already look conservative. The UN refugee agency UNHCR called for more cohesive asylum policies to deal with the growing numbers...
Vatican official calls for religious freedom in Middle East (Vatican Radio) Religious freedom and respect for the rights of Christians and other minority groups in the Middle East were at the heart of an address by the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, at an international conference held in Paris on Tuesday...
Syrian group calls for “safe passage” to help Syrian Christians (ABC) Australia is being urged to help create a safe passage for minority groups stranded as refugees in Syria and surrounding countries. President of the Australian Christian Syrian Association Christine Hanna said it was all well and good for Australia to increase its Syrian refugee intake, but many people, especially the Christians, were finding it extremely hard to flee to another country...
UN: death toll in Ukraine nears 8,000 (The New York Times) Nearly 8,000 people have died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations said Tuesday in a report blaming the continuing influx of fighters and weaponry from Russia as the major obstacle to peace...
Eritrea warns Ethiopia of “sabre rattling” (AFP) Eritrea has accused arch-rival Ethiopia of “sabre-rattling” and of threatening to invade, with the neighbors still in a tense standoff following a 1998-2000 border war. Asmara’s Ministry of Information said in a statement that war-like rhetoric from Ethiopia’s main party in the ruling coalition — the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) — had increased. Eritrea, which broke away from Ethiopia in 1991 after a brutal 30-year independence struggle, remains on an effective war-footing with Addis Ababa after a return to war in 1998...
Coptic patriarch: the Church’s mission is spiritual, not political (Fides) The Coptic Church is a reality of spiritual nature that serves the entire Egyptian society, without exception, and carries out that service without claiming direct political roles, but merely exercising its ecclesial mission. This is what Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros II said, speaking in a parish in Cairo. In his speech, Pope Tawadros intentionally repeated that the Coptic Church does not offer direct and personal support to any candidate, and also its social, charitable and educational activities are all carried out in relation to its mission, to the benefit of salvation of all...
8 September 2015
Tags: Syria Egypt Ukraine Ethiopia Eritrea
Patriarch Gregoire Pierre XX Ghabroyan of Cilicia, leader of the Armenian Catholic Church, embraces Pope Francis at the start of a morning Mass in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae at the Vatican on 7 September. The pope paid tribute to the enduring faith of Armenian Catholics through centuries of persecution. (photo: CNS/L’Osservatore Romano)
Pope Francis celebrated Mass on Monday morning in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence, with the recently-elected Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, His Beatitude Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan, as well as with the Bishops of Synod of the Apostolic Armenian Catholic Church and the Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri.
In his homily, the pope spoke poignantly of Christian persecution:
Even today, “Perhaps more than in the early days,” said Pope Francis, [Christians] are persecuted, killed, driven out, despoiled, only because they are Christians”:
“Dear brothers and sisters, there is no Christianity without persecution. Remember the last of the Beatitudes: when they bring you into the synagogues, and persecute you, revile you, this is the fate of a Christian. Today too, this happens before the whole world, with the complicit silence of many powerful leaders who could stop it. We are facing this Christian fate: go on the same path of Jesus.”
The Pope recalled, “One of many great persecutions: that of the Armenian people... the first nation to convert to Christianity: the first. They were persecuted just for being Christians,” he said. “The Armenian people were persecuted, chased away from their homeland, helpless, in the desert.” This story — he observed — began with Jesus: what people did, “to Jesus, has during the course of history been done to His body, which is the Church.”
“Today,” the Holy Father continued, “I would like, on this day of our first Eucharist, as brother Bishops, dear brother Bishops and Patriarch and all of you Armenian faithful and priests, to embrace you and remember this persecution that you have suffered, and to remember your holy ones, your many saints who died of hunger, in the cold, under torture, [cast] into the wilderness only for being Christians.”
The Holy Father also remembered the broader persecution of Christians in the present day. “We now, in the newspapers, hear the horror of what some terrorist groups do, who slit the throats of people just because [their victims] are Christians. We think of the Egyptian martyrs, recently, on the Libyan coast, who were slaughtered while pronouncing the name of Jesus.”
Pope Francis prayed that the Lord might, “give us a full understanding, to know the Mystery of God who is in Christ,” and who, “carries the Cross, the Cross of persecution, the Cross of hatred, the Cross of that, which comes from the anger,” of persecutors — an anger that is stirred up by “the Father of Evil.”
“May the Lord, today, make us feel within the body of the Church, the love for our martyrs and also our vocation to martyrdom,” the Pope said. “We do not know what will happen here: we do not know. Only Let the Lord give us the grace, should this persecution happen here one day, of the courage and the witness that all Christian martyrs have shown, and especially the Christians of the Armenian people.”
8 September 2015
Migrants walk along rail tracks as they arrive to a collection point in the village of Roszke in Hungary after crossing the border from Serbia on 6 September.
(photo: CNS/Marko Djurica, Reuters)
Germany’s Angela Merkel calls for quotas of migrants (CNN) The flood of migrants pouring into Europe means all EU member states must step up to meet the mounting crisis, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday. Merkel called for mandatory quotas to be set for each country to take a share of displaced people, many from war-torn Syria...
UN calls for guaranteed relocation of refugees (Reuters) Europe must offer guaranteed relocation for Syrian refugees, as record numbers flee to Macedonia and Greece due to misery in their homeland and surrounding countries, the United Nations said on Tuesday. A record 7,000 Syrian refugees arrived in the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia on Monday, while some 30,000 are on Greek islands, including 20,000 on Lesbos, it said...
Pope asks European parishes to take in refugees (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has called on European parishes and religious communities to offer shelter to a migrant family. The Pope’s appeal came during the Sunday Angelus...
Pope simplifies annulment process (CNS) While a juridical process is necessary for making accurate judgments, the Catholic Church’s marriage annulment process must be quicker, cheaper and much more of a pastoral ministry, Pope Francis said. Rewriting a section of the Latin-rite Code of Canon Law and of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Pope Francis said he was not “promoting the nullity of marriages, but the quickness of the processes, as well as a correct simplicity” of the procedures so that Catholic couples are not “oppressed by the shadow of doubt” for prolonged periods...
Pope concelebrates Mass with Armenian patriarch (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis’ morning Mass in the chapel of the Santa Marta residence on Monday was an extraordinary occasion: it saw the recently-elected Patriarch of Cilicia of the Armenians, His Beatitude Gregory Peter XX Ghabroyan, concelebrate the liturgy with the Holy Father, and exchange with the Pope the concrete sign of ecclesial communion...
Ukraine fighting at lowest level since conflict began (BBC) Fighting in eastern Ukraine has fallen to its lowest level since the conflict started, Ukrainian Defence Minister Stepan Poltorak has said. Mr Poltorak said Ukrainian forces were coming under attack just two to four times a day - the lowest rate in the past year and a half...
4 September 2015
Tags: Syria Pope Francis Ukraine Refugees Armenia
A woman sits among sleeping migrants near the Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary, on 3 September. More than 2,000 people, most of them refugees from the Middle East, camped in front of the Keleti Railway Terminus, closed to them by authorities who said European Union rules bar travel by those without valid documents. (photo: CNS/Bernadett Szabo, Reuters)
At a moment when the eyes of the world are riveted on the horror unfolding in Europe — with tens of thousands, most from Iraq and Syria, fleeing for their lives, and some stories ending in tragedy and despair — there are, nonetheless, glimmers of hope.
Catholic aid agencies are there to help.
In Hungary, the government has asked Caritas Hungary to intervene:
[Vatican radio reporter] Linda Bordoni spoke to the Head of Caritas Hungary Emergency Response, Balint Vadasz, who explains that Caritas will expand its operation outside the camps and create “transit zones”: spaces in the city where refugees will be able to obtain assistance.
Vadasz, who has been talking to people at the train station where clashes with police officers have fueled tension and anger, says that the migrants and refugees can be divided into two groups: the first, consisting mostly in women and children that is patient, cooperative and subdued; the other, more numerous, he describes as “hardcore” and consists mostly of people who are fueling discontent and he says are provoking aggressive behavior.
Vadasz says that although there are many Syrian refugees amongst the crowds of migrants, there are also many economic migrants who attempt to pass as refugees but come from countries like Albania and Afghanistan.
He says that about 80% of them are men; the remaining 20% are families with children.
He speaks of the living conditions of the people trying to board trains at Budapest Station. He says the situation is extremely difficult for ordinary Hungarians.
He also describes the situation of utter chaos in the city where parks and streets are filled with wandering people who cause huge problems to the traffic and overun with litter — making everyday life unsustainable for citizens.
At the moment — he says — Caritas is providing basic humanitarian assistance to those in the camps but plans to expand its emergency response programme by creating spaces — “transit zones” — in the city of Budapest where refugees will be able to be assisted with a number of projects including special healthcare programmes for children and babies.
Many of the refugees fleeing to Europe first found refuge in Jordan, Lebanon or Turkey. Lebanon alone has absorbed an estimated 1.5 million refugees from neighboring Syria, a staggering figure representing one refugee for every three people already residing in the country. In Jordan, where it is said “if you are not a refugee, you are a stranger,” hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Syrians have poured into its cities for years, straining the kingdom’s already overburdened infrastructure.
And CNEWA is there to help, working through local churches and religious congregations to provide support to the displaced:
Two Franciscan Missionaries of Mary — one middle aged, one a novice — wind their way through a narrow alley lined with convenience shops and small cinderblock homes. Local residents greet them. The sisters are here to visit a few of the hundreds of Syrians who have taken refuge in Naba’a after fleeing their nation’s three-year civil war.
But Naba’a is hardly a refuge. Since the government of Lebanon has decided not to build refugee camps, people find shelter wherever they can: in one-room homes, in crowded apartments, even in tents.
In Naba’a, as in the rest of Lebanon, you are left to fend for yourself. But in a land riddled with clear and present dangers, the two sisters this day are bearing something often hard to find: hope.
...[One refugee] Mariam has not always had a hopeful outlook. When she first came to Beirut she was overwhelmed and despondent. Gabriel was out of work because of a back injury, and Sonique, her 13-year-old daughter, was still traumatized by what she had witnessed in Syria. The family lived in a tent on a roof, renting the space for $100 per month. But after she began attending a series of retreats sponsored by the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, Mariam found the courage to accept her circumstances and even to help others.
A team of psychologists and social workers counsels participants on the importance of positive thinking, how to live in community, how to care for others and how to preserve family unity in the midst of difficult circumstances. Children are taught the same lessons in separate sessions that include games and theater. The retreats always end with a party, with adults and children coming together for songs, skits and dancing.
Sisters of the Good Shepherd help care for Syrian refugee children at a makeshift school in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. (photo: John E. Kozar)
In Jordan, meantime, displaced Iraqi Christians who have fled ISIS are finding sanctuary — and CNEWA is there for them, too:
“The flow of refugees is great. We see the suffering they are going through and how we can support them,” says Sister Elizabeth Mary, one of the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary who staff the [Italian Hospital in Amman].
“Whatever funds we receive, they’re used because the people never stop coming. We are always looking for help,” adds the soft-spoken sister.
“It’s normal to see refugees here at the Italian Hospital, which is not the case with other hospitals in Amman. At every level, our staff is prepared to aid them, and the refugees also feel good about coming to our hospital,” Mr. Samawi says.
“Thousands of people are benefiting from our health care program handling mid-sized surgeries,” says Ra’ed Bahou, CNEWA’s regional director for Jordan and Iraq, which supports the Catholic hospital’s care for refugees and the poor. “Now, we are trying to help with larger surgeries — heart operations and some cancer and hernia treatments.”
Until recently, the U.N. High Council for Refugees also channeled assistance to the hospital through Caritas, but that aid has ended, straining the resources of the facility and its partner, CNEWA.
Those Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS come to the Italian Hospital primarily for the treatment of hypertension and diabetes, says medical director Dr. Khalid Shammas. Others suffer from chronic heart problems and strokes. Often, he says, the diseases are related to the enormous stress from the loss of homes, livelihoods and more.
“We listen to them. There is struggle, loss and disappointment. It’s no wonder the refugees are depressed,” says Sister Elizabeth.
To learn how you can continue to support this vital work, at a time when so many of our suffering brothers and sisters are in need, visit this giving page. And please keep all those seeking sanctuary — in Europe, in the Middle East, and around the world — in your prayers.
4 September 2015
Outside the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, hundreds of Arab Israeli Christians hold banners in a rally against what they said was state discrimination in funding their schools. Christian schools in Israel stayed shut this week, delaying the start of the new academic year; the action affected about 33,000 pupils, mostly Muslim Israeli Arabs, at 47 schools. Read details at the website for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. (photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)
4 September 2015
Migrants protest outside a train near Budapest, Hungary on 4 September 2015. They refused to leave the train out of fear of being sent to a refugee camp. Since the beginning of 2015 the number of migrants using the so-called Balkans route has exploded with migrants arriving in Greece from Turkey and then travelling on through Macedonia and Serbia before entering
the EU via Hungary. (photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Migrants resist going to refugee camp (Vatican Radio) Thousands of migrants in Hungary trying to reach Western Europe rushed into a Budapest train station yesterday and shoved their way onto a waiting train. The train left the station, but was stopped by police in the nearby town of Bitske at a Hungarian camp for asylum seekers, setting off a bitter showdown...
Negotiations underway for release of Father Murad, hostages (Fides) Father Jacques Murad and about 270 Christians and Muslims taken hostage by jihadi militias during their offensive in southeast of Homs are alive, and their condition is currently considered quite “stable and secure.” Some heads of local ecclesial communities are carrying out negotiations through mediators to obtain their release as soon as possible...
U.N.: Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in five years (Newsweek) Gaza could become “uninhabitable” within five years if current economic trends continue, according to a United Nations report released this week. The report says that socio-economic conditions in Gaza are at their lowest point since 1967 and that the “social, health and security-related ramifications of the high population density and overcrowding are among the factors that may render Gaza unlivable by 2020, if present trends continue.” By 2020, Gaza’s population is predicted to increase from 1.6 million to 2.1 million, and for it to be a livable place, “herculean efforts” are needed to improve health, education, water and sanitation sectors, according to the report...
Pope Tawadros meets U.S. Congressional delegation (The Cairo Post) Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria and Patriarch of St. Mark Diocese met Thursday with a U.S. Congressional delegation at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, Youm7 reported. The delegation’s visit aimed to review the situation of the Copts in Egypt. The delegation includes the U.S. congress members Louie Gohmert, Victoria Coates, Samantha Leahy, Stephen Colvin and Patrick Paul. “Egypt is in its way towards stability and the situation is much better than the previous years; Copts are in good relations with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and with all the Egyptians,” Pope Tawadros II told the l delegation, according to an official statement from the church...
3 September 2015
Tags: Syria Egypt Gaza Strip/West Bank Copts
On 2 September, a member of the Turkish military carries a young migrant named Aylan, 3, who drowned as his family attempted to sail to the Greek island of Kos. (photo: CNS/Reuters)
We know now that his name was Aylan Kurdi. He was three-years-old.
Yesterday, this harrowing image of Aylan’s lifeless body being carried from a beach in Turkey seized the attention of the world. Aylan and his five-year-old brother Galip drowned while trying to reach the Greek island of Kos from the Turkish resort town of Bodrum. Their mother, Rehan, also died. Only the boys’ father, Abdullah, survived.They were just two of at least a dozen migrants on a small boat fleeing the war in Syria.
According to USA TODAY, Aylan and his family were Kurdish Syrians from Kobane, a town near the Turkish border, trying to emigrate to Canada.
An editor at The Los Angeles Times put this picture in context:
It is heartbreaking, and stark testimony of an unfolding human tragedy that is playing out in Syria, Turkey and Europe, often unwitnessed,” she said. “We have written stories about hundreds of migrants dead in capsized boats, sweltering trucks, lonely rail lines, but it took a tiny boy on a beach to really bring it home to those readers who may not yet have grasped the magnitude of the migrant crisis.”
By one account, some 2,500 have died trying to cross the Aegean to reach Greece. The growing refugee crisis — with hundreds of thousands seeking to escape the bloodshed and turmoil in parts of the Middle East — has had a profound impact on many countries, with pressure increasing on European leaders to take action. In the meantime, the displaced in Iraq and Lebanon and Syria continue to turn to humanitarian agencies such as CNEWA, seeking help and hope. To learn what you can do for families such as the Kurdis in Syria, visit this page.
This day, please remember them in your prayers.
Remember Aylan Kurdi, and his brother Galip, and their mother Rehan, and so many others whose names we do not know who have lost their lives seeking sanctuary and a better life.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them...
3 September 2015
Pope Francis meets with Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin in the Vatican.
(photo: Vatican Radio/AP)
Pope meets with Israel’s president (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis met Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin in the Vatican on Thursday (3 September) and held talks that focused on the situation in the Middle East and bilateral relations...
Vatican: Promote the rights of Christians in the Middle East (Vatican Radio) Promote the rights of Christian citizens of the Middle East, and bring an end to persecution. This was the message the Rev. Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot, M.C.C.I., the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, brought to the “Interreligious Meeting on Supporting Citizenship Rights and Peaceful Coexistence: Challenges, Practices and Open Questions” which took place in Athens on 2-3 September...
Family of Syrian boy who drowned were trying to reach Canada (The Guardian) The family of a three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was washed up on a beach in Turkey were making a final, desperate attempt to flee to relatives in Canada even though their asylum application had been rejected, according to reports. Syria was already at war when Aylan Kurdi was born. He died with his five-year-old brother, Galip, and mother, Rehan. Their father, Abdullah, survived...
Ukraine weighs autonomy for parts of East (The New York Times) KIEV, Ukraine — A loud, angry and violent protest this week over a parliamentary measure to grant a greater degree of self-rule to Ukraine’s secessionist eastern districts overlooked one little-recognized fact: To a great extent, the rebel areas have already achieved an autonomy surpassing that envisioned in the measure. But that, paradoxically, could be a positive development, some analysts say, and a necessary first step to ending the fighting, which has cost more than 6,500 lives and has driven Ukraine’s economy close to collapse...
Church supports Indians on nationwide strike (CNS) The Catholic Church in India supported some 150 million workers on a nationwide strike that shut down factories, banks, traffic and government offices across India on 2 September. Workers across India are upset about labor policies of the government that they say are detrimental to the welfare of workers, said Bishop Oswald Lewis of Jaipur, head of the Indian bishops’ labor office. “The church is in solidarity with striking workers because we are concerned about their welfare,” the bishop told ucanews.com, adding that all Catholic forums in the country are supporting the strike...
Coptic patriarch calls for better use of Nile waters (Fides) An invitation to encourage the rational use of the waters of Egypt was made yesterday to all Egyptians by Pope Tawadros II, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church. The call to rationalize the exploitation of water resources of the longest river in the world was highlighted by the Patriarch in his homily during the liturgy celebrated in the church of the Virgin Mary and St. Athanasius, in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis...
2 September 2015
In Canada, the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village near Edmonton recreates the life of settlers in the region. To learn how Ukrainians are passing on their heritage in Canada, check out “Holding on Through the Generations” in the November 2005 edition of ONE. (photo: Richard McGuire)